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Devouring Wealth through Evil Means
Economic Issues
Dr. Shehzad Saleem

 

O believers! Do not devour one another’s wealth by evil means except through trading by mutual consent. (4:29)

This verse prohibits a person from devouring other people’s wealth through means which are against justice, honesty, fairness and good conventions. It is this directive of the Qur’ān which forms the basis of all prohibitions in Islam that pertain to economic matters. Obtaining money through theft, usurpation, lying, co-operation with evil, embezzlement, misappropriation, consuming unclaimed items without publicising them, all come under it. These evils require no further discussion since they are universally acknowledged sins in every society and every religion. Transactions and activities which become a source of deceit or damage for the parties involved are also corollaries of this directive. Their various forms which the Prophet forbade (sws) in his own times are:

 

Selling fish which are as yet in water.1

Selling the offspring of an animal prior to their birth while they are in the foetal stage.2

Selling milk while it is in an animal’s udders except if its quantity is ascertained.3

Selling the spoils of war before they are distributed.4

Selling something before its possession is taken.5

Selling run-away slaves.6

Selling grain bought in mounds before bringing it to the place where it is sold.7

Selling and purchasing done by a city dweller for a villager.8

Increasing one’s bid in an auction only to deceive others.9

Bargaining when some one else is bargaining.10

Darbah al-Ghā’is: Deals in which a sea-diver is told that whatever he gathers in a dive will be bought from him for a certain amount of money.11

Exploiting others in sale and purchase.12

Muhāqalah: Selling crop when it is still in the spikes.13

Muzābanah:  Selling the dates which are on a date tree in exchange for plucked dates.14

Mu‘āwamah: Selling the fruits of trees for many years.15

Thaniyā: Leaving an unspecified exception in a bargain. One of its forms, for example was that the seller would say: “I sell my grain to you, but I will take something out of it”.16

Mulāmasah: Deal in which a person, without thinking, just touches the other person’s cloth and a deal is made in this manner.17

Munābazah: Deal in which people throw something towards one another and, in this way, a bargain is made.18

Bay‘ al-‘urbān: Deal in which money given in advance becomes the right of the seller if the deal does not ultimately take place.19

Bay ’ilā habl al-hablah: Deal in which people sell camels by saying: “Whatever offspring this camel gives birth to and when that offspring gets pregnant, whatever it gives birth to, then the [last] offspring is bought by me.”20

Bay‘ al-Hisāh: (Deal of pebbles). In pre-Islamic times, such a bargain existed generally in two forms: (1) people would make a deal about a piece of land and then the buyer would throw a pebble; the distance covered by the pebble would be regarded as the length of the sold land, (2) people would throw a pebble and say that whatever thing it touched would be considered as sold.21

Selling fruits of a tree before their quality and characteristics becomes evident.22

Selling spikes before they turn white and become safe from calamities.23

Selling wool while it is still on an animal’s body.24

Selling butter oil before it is extracted from milk.25

Selling a commodity which is defective, except when the buyer is informed of its defects.26

Holding the milk of camels and goats in their udders before selling it.27

Intercepting tradesmen and buying their merchandise before they reach the markets.28

Making a deal by giving money in advance such that a person obtains the item after it is ready except if this transaction is carried out for a fixed measure, a specified weight and a definite period of time.29

Mukhābarah: Adopting the methods of crop-sharing (Mudār‘aat) in which the profit of the landlord is fixed before hand.30

Adopting methods of crop-sharing (Mudāra‘at) in which the production of a particular area of land is regarded as the right of the landlord.31

Selling jointly owned properties without giving the shareholders a chance to buy them except if the ownership divisions are determined and the paths are separated.32

Selling property which lies on a pathway that is common with a neighbour’s house without giving him the chance to purchase it.33

Storing commodities of general use to create a shortage and thereby increase their prices in the market. The Prophet (sws) utterly forbade this and is reported to have said:

He who hoarded edibles for forty days should know that he has no relationship with the Almighty, nor does the Almighty have any relationship with him. (Musnad Ahmad Bin Hambal, Vol 2, p. 33)

On another occasion, he remarked:

He who interfered in any way to increase the rates in the markets of the Muslims, the Almighty has the right to make his abode in a great fire on the Day of Judgement. (Musnad Ahmad Bin Hambal, Vol 5, p. 27)

These are the various forms of sale and purchase and crop-sharing which the Prophet (sws) prohibited in his times. Since all the above mentioned directives are based on the underlying bases of deceit and damage, the directive of prohibition will stand dissolved in circumstances in which these bases no longer exists, just as if as a result of evolution of societies these bases emerge in some new economic activity, then those charged with authority can prohibit that activity.

Bribery, gambling and interest also belong to this category of devouring wealth through evil means. This writer will now venture to elaborate the view of the Qur’ān on these three horrendous crimes.

Bribery

The Qur’ān says:

Do not devour one another’s wealth by evil means and do not use it as a means to reach the authorities in order that you may devour other people’s wealth even though you know that it is a sin. (2:188)

In the words of Imām Amīn Ahsan Islāhī, this verse sheds light on the various aspects of bribery as follows:

Firstly, it is the greatest means of usurping the rights of others. Consequently, it is mentioned right after devouring one another’s wealth through evil means in the above quoted verse. The reason for this is that the real utility of the law in being the custodian of people’s rights is totally dependent on the honesty and righteousness of the law enforcing authorities. They are the ones who protect the law in reality. So, if they are made corrupt through some means, then this only means that rights of people can now be sold and purchased. Anyone having money can buy them. This makes bribery the most effective way to make the authorities dishonest and unfair in their dealings.

Secondly, the greatest factor which promotes bribery is the society itself. When the tendency of usurping others’ rights manifests itself in people, they adopt bribery to quench their evil thirst and illegally gratify the authorities. The authorities, as a result, get so used to taking bribes that they do not give people their legal rights unless they are given bribes. It is because of this reason that Islam at the very outset directed the society to refrain from this /evil, as this evil will turn their own custodians into their worst enemies. It is evident from certain Ahādīth that as a precautionary measure, Islam even discourages people from giving gifts and presents to government officials and similarly it discourages the officials from accepting them as this might open the door to bribery.

Thirdly, the fact that bribery is a universally acknowledged sin. Sense and reason, human nature and intuition, conventions and customs of a society all regard it so. All the religions of the world unanimously prohibit it. Consequently, the closing part of the verse is: “and you know this”. (Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān, Vol 1, p. 465)

It is on account of these aspects of bribery that the Prophet (sws) severely condemned people who are involved in it. To quote Abū Dāwūd:

The Prophet has cursed the person who gives bribes and the one who accepts bribes. (Kitāb al-Aqdīyyah)

Gambling

Gambling, everyone knows, is merely chancing one’s luck. The Qur’ān has called it rijsun min ‘amal al-shaytān (from among the filthy works of Satan). Obviously, this is because it gives rise to moral misconduct in a person which gradually encompasses his personality. The reason is that if an economic activity is based on rights and services and rational decisions, it produces a high moral character, and if an economic activity is based on mere chance, fortune and fortuity, it produces an attitude which is based on avoidance of hard work and service. This gives rise to such mean qualities as cowardice and faint-heartedness which subsequently eliminate the innate qualities of honour, integrity, sincerity and self-respect. As a result, a person becomes unmindful to the remembrance of the Almighty and to the prayer, and instead of having love and affection for his fellow beings, he has nothing but enmity and hatred left for them. The Qur’ān says:

O ye who believe: this liquor and gambling and idols and these divining arrows are abominations devised by Satan. Avoid them that you may succeed. Satan seeks to stir up enmity and hatred among you by means of liquor and gambling and to keep you from the remembrance of Allah and from the prayer. Will you not then abstain from them? (5:90-91)

An important point to note is that gambling in pre-Islamic times was a means through which the rich showed their generosity and helped the poor and needy. In winters, when cold winds blew in and caused conditions akin to drought, the courageous would gather at various places, drink liquor and in their state of inebriation slaughter any camels they could get hold of. They would pay the owner of the camels whatever price he demanded. They would then gamble on the meat of the slaughtered camels. Whatever parts of meat a person won in this gambling, he would generously distribute them among the poor who would gather around them on such occasions. In the pre-Islamic Arabia, this was a matter of great honour and people who took part in this activity would be considered very philanthropic and generous. The poets would narrate the accounts of their benevolence in their odes. On the other hand, people who stayed away from this activity would be called “Barm” (stingy).

It was this very utility of liquor and gambling which prompted people to inquiry when they were regarded as prohibited items. The Qur’ān asserted in its reply that in spite of possessing this benefit, they were instrumental in producing moral misconduct in an individual, which in no case can be allowed:

They ask you about liquor and gambling. Tell them: there is great sin in them and some profits as well for people. But their sin is greater than their profit. (2:219)

Interest

Interest is also a similar sin that morally pollutes a person as well as the institutions involved in its transactions. Those who lend on interest totally safeguard their capital by not risking it in any way and extort profit from the poor borrower. In Arabic, it is called ribā and the Qur’ān has used this very word for it. Everyone who understands Arabic, knows that it implies a fixed increase which a lender demands from the borrower just because he has given him the permission to use his money for a certain period. The Qur’ān has vehemently prohibited it in the following words:

Those who devour interest will rise up on the Day of Judgement like the man whom Satan has driven to madness by his touch because they claim that trading is like interest and how strange it is that Allah has permitted trading and forbidden interest. Consequently, he who received this warning from the Almighty and desisted [in obedience thereto], then whatever he has taken in the past belongs to him and his fate is in the hands of Allah. And those who repeat [the offence] will be companions of the Fire and will abide therein forever. (2:275)

O you who believe! Fear Allah and give up what remains of your demand for interest. If you do it not, beware of war from Allah and His Prophet. And if you repent, then you can have your principle amount. Neither will you be allowed to deal unjustly nor will you be dealt with unjustly. (2:278-279)

The reason why devourers of interest will be raised up on the Day of Judgement as madmen is their expression of amazement on the fact that the Almighty has not prohibited trading while He has prohibited interest, whereas there is no difference between the two. They maintain that if a trader can demand profit on his capital, why can’t a lender on interest demand profit on his capital. According to the Qur’ān, only a madman can give such an insane statement and such insanity demands that its reward be no different than insanity itself. So in accordance with the law of similarity between the act and its reward, such people would be raised up as madmen on the Day of Judgement.

Imām Amīn Ahsan Islāhī, while commenting on this expression of amazement of the interest devourers remarks in his exegesis “Tadabbur-i- Qur’ān”:

It is evident from the objection raised by the interest devourers that the breed of people who regard interest and trading as analogous to one another is not very rare after all. It was found even in the olden times. The Qur’ān has not even commented on this foolish objection since its baselessness is self evident and only sheds light on the insanity of those who have raised it. A trader invests his capital in a trade which is in demand from the people. He makes his merchandise available to people through hard work and by taking a lot of risk. These people, in the first place, were not in a position to produce this merchandise themselves, and if at all they had been able to do this then they would have given a given a heavy cost for it. Moreover, a trader spews his capital in the open market for competition and his profit is determined by the low and high trends of the market itself. He may end up losing all his money due to these trends and he may be able to make some profit. So his hands are tied in this enterprise as he cannot earn a single penny of profit in  selling his merchandise until once again his invested capital enters the market after being exposed to the risks and fluctuations of the market forces and after once again providing service to the society.

So how can the enterprise of a trader who takes risk and provides service to the society when he invests his capital be compared to that of an interest devourer whose enterprise is mean, callous, cowardly and hostile to humanity in its nature. He is a person who is not willing to take the slightest risk with his capital but is very eager to extort profit. (Vol 1, p. 632-3)

It is because of this fiendish nature of interest that the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:

So great a sin is interest that if it is divided into seventy parts, then lightest of these parts is equal in its extent to fornication with one’s mother. (Ibn Mājah, Kitāb al-Tijārāt)

Although the Qur’ān has prohibited only the taking of interest, yet an essential corollary of this is that without any genuine plea a person who gives interest or writes down its transaction or bears witness to it be regarded as equal criminals on the principle of Ta‘āwun ‘alā al-ithm (co-operation with evil). Consequently, it is narrated by Jābir (rta):

The Prophet has severely condemned the devourer of interest and the one who pays interest and those who write an agreement [for such lending] and the two who are the witnesses to this document and has said: All of them are equal. (Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘)

The Prophet (sws) has emphatically directed people to refrain from the slightest possible trace of interest while borrowing in barter as well:

If you lend gold, then take back the same type and the same amount of gold; and if you lend silver, then take back the same type and the same amount of silver; for he who gave more or desired more, then this is precisely what is interest. (Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘)

If you lend gold in exchange for silver, then there is a possibility of interest in this.34 Similarly, for wheat in exchange for another type of wheat35, barley in exchange for another type of barley, date for another type of date. Indeed if the exchange is done on the spot, then there is no harm. (Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘)

This is the correct meaning of the above quoted Ahādīth. If all the Ahādīth on this topic had remained intact, the scholars of our Ummah would not have faltered in interpreting them. However, owing to the misinterpretation of the narrators in some chains of narration, the words “on the spot” or those of similar meaning of the second Hadīth were incorporated in the first one; similarly, the words “gold in exchange for gold” of the first Hadīth were put in place of the words “silver in exchange for gold” of the second. It is because of this intermingling of words that our jurists have erroneously derived the concept of Ribā al-Fadl from such Ahādīth. Whereas the correct concept in this regard is what the following words of the Prophet (sws) say: “Ribā is only in transactions of loan.” (Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘)

It should be borne in mind that interest pertains only to those transactions in which a commodity is borrowed for the purpose of ‘using it up’ whereby the borrower would be burdened to recreate it in order to return it to the lender. If any additional amount is demanded over and above it, then this no doubt is injustice as affirmed both by reason and revelation. On the contrary, transactions in which the commodities and items in question are ‘used’ rather than being ‘used up’ relate to lease, and the money demanded by the owner on providing this service, which is termed as rent, can in no way be objected to.

Similarly, it should also remain clear that whether a loan is acquired for personal or business or welfare purposes, the real meaning of Ribā is not ascertained on these bases. It is an indisputable fact that in the Arabic language the word Ribā, irrespective of the aim of the lender and the condition of the borrower, just implies a predetermined increase acquired on a loan. Consequently, the Qur’ān itself has clarified this fact: during its own period of revelation lending on interest for business purposes was quite rampant and these loans were given that they might increase manifold by prospering in the wealth of others:

That which you give as loan on interest that it may increase on [other] people’s wealth has no increase with Allah; but that which you give as Zakāt, seeking Allah’s countenance, it is these people who shall get manifold [in the Hereafter] of what they gave. (30:39)

The expression “…that it may increase on [other] people’s wealth” is not only inappropriate for application to interest based loans given to the poor for their personal use, but is also clearly indicative of the fact that interest based loans were generally given for business purposes and in this way they “increased on other people’s wealth” according to the Qur’ān.

It is to this fact that the following verse also points:

If the borrower is in difficulty grant him respite until it is easy for him to repay and if you write off [the debt], it is better for you, if you only knew. (2:280)

Imām Amīn Ahsān Islāhī comments on this verse in the following words:

Today some naive people claim that the type of interest which prevailed in Arabia before the advent of Islam was usury. The poor and the destitute had no option but to borrow money from a few rich money-lenders to fulfil their personal needs. These money-lenders exploited the poor and used to lend them money at high interest rates. It is only this type of interest which the Qur’ān has termed as Ribā and forbidden. As far as commercial interest is concerned, it neither existed at that time nor did the Qur’ān prohibit it.

The verse categorically refutes this ‘allegation’. When the Qur’ān says that if the borrower is in difficulty, he should be given respite until he is able to pay back his debt, it clearly points out that in those times even the rich used to acquire loans. In fact, if the style and stress of the verse are correctly understood, it becomes clear that it was mostly the rich who used to procure loans. Indeed, there was a strong chance that the borrower would find himself in difficulty even to pay the original amount. The money-lender, therefore, is directed to give him more time and if he forgoes the original amount it would be better for him. The words of this verse strongly indicate this meaning. The actual Arabic words of the verse are: wa in kāna dhū ‘usratin fa naziratun ilā maysarah. The particle of condition in (if) is not used for general circumstances, but, in fact, is used for rare and unusual circumstances. For general circumstances the particle idhā is used. In the light of this, it is clear that the borrower in those times were generally affluent (dhū maysarah) but in some cases they were poor or had become poor after acquiring the loan and in that case, the Qur’ān has directed the money-lenders to give them a time rebate. (Tadabbur-i- Qur’ān, Vol 1, p. 638-639)

He has concluded this discussion by saying:

Obviously, the affluent would have turned to the money-lenders not to fulfil their personal needs, but, of course, their business needs. So what is the difference between these loans and the commercial loans of today? (Tadabbur-i- Qur’ān, Vol I, p. 639)

Since the prohibition of interest totally eliminates any incentive of profit in lending money, as an obvious outcome, no institution which provides capital to investors on loan can be established. The Qur’ān by prohibiting interest therefore, does not merely prohibit a type of fiscal transaction, it actually razes down this pillar of capitalism -- the institution of Banking. Of course, it can only be left intact if the spirit of the law which prohibits interest is violated without actually violating the law.

Now as far as the question of organizing national savings is concerned, it can be resolved in the following manner in the opinion of this writer:

Firstly, on the principle of “.. lest wealth should only circulate in the rich among you (59:7)”, national savings should not be allowed to be organised in the private sector. All banks should be converted into various branches of the Bayt al-Māl where people can deposit their savings. These branches should provide protection, exchange, short term loans and other similar facilities. In return for this service, the government should be allowed to invest the deposited funds to establish a broad-based public sector according to the requirements of the country, upon the precondition that without being given any profit on the original amount, a depositor would be returned his money on demand.

Secondly, the industrial enterprises and units so created in the public sector should be run by the government, and, wherever it is required, the private sector should also be called upon to participate in their running and management by buying a certain quantity of the shares of these enterprises. Alternatively, by imposing Khirāj (tribute) on some of these industrial ventures, the government may entrust their entire management to a party of the private sector just as the Caliph ‘Umar (raa) had done with the conquered lands of Syria and Iraq, which he had kept in state ownership and had entrusted their management to their original owners, imposing a fixed tribute on them according to their produce.

Thirdly, the stock market should be cleansed from gambling and from transactions which may become a source of deceit or damage for either party and be organised in such a transparent manner that people can become shareholders without any hesitation in the various projects of the private and public sector.

It is the firm belief of this writer that if these three measures are adopted, then the world can find itself blessed with an economy that is the golden mean between the extremes of modern day economic ideologies – an economy emancipated from the curse of capitalism and from the coercion of communism.

(Translated from Ghamidi’s “Mīzān” by Shehzad Saleem)

 

 

 

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1. Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hambal, Vol 1, p. 388

2. Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hambal, Vol 3, p. 42

3. Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hambal, Vol 3, p. 42

4. Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hambal, Vol 3, p. 42

5. Bukhārī, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 54

6. Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hambal, Vol 3, p. 42

7. Bukhārī, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 56

8. Bukhārī, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 58

9. Bukhārī, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 58

10. Bukhārī, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 58

11. Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hambal, Vol 3, p. 42

12. Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hambal, Vol 1, p. 116

13. Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 13

14. Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 13

15. Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 13

16. Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 13

17. Muslim, Kitāb-ul-Buyū‘, Ch 1

18. Bukhārī, Kitāb al-Buyū‘. Ch 62

19. Ibn Mājah, Kitāb al-Tijārāt, Ch 22

20. Bukhari, Kitāb al-Silm, Ch 8

21. Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 2

22. Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 62

23. Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 50

24. Behqi. Kitāb al-Buyū‘

25. Behqi, Kitāb al-Buyū‘

26. Ibn Mājah, Kitāb al-Tijārāt, Ch 45

27. Bukhārī, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 64

28. Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 4

29. Bukhārī, Kitāb al-Silm, Ch 7

30. Muslim, Kitāb al-Buyū‘, Ch 13

31. Bukhārī, Kitāb al-Harth wa al-Mudāra‘ah, Ch 7

32. Bukhārī, Kitāb-us-Shufa’h, Ch 1

33. Tirmadhi, Kitāb al-Ahkām

34. This directive is meant to put a stop at the very outset to ways which lead to the door of interest. Since dissimilar commodities are given on credit, there is all the probability of some increase or decrease in such barter transactions; the Prophet (sws) therefore prohibited them.

35. This translation is in accordance with the copulative relation of this sentence to the previous one. The words ‘If you lend gold in exchange for silver’ in which two different commodities are mentioned entail that the wheat mentioned in this expression be of two different categories.

 

   
 
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